Pianos: A bridge too far


Natural light (but not direct sun) reached into this piano just well enough for me to notice a recalcitrant bridge pin. The force of the string load has managed to shunt the pin across and out of its hole. The affected wire can no longer meet the requisite 10-12° angle of deviation as it passes by that insubordinate little soldier.

Each bridge pin is drilled to overhang the string at a 21½° angle to attempt to keep the string in contact with the bridge. That's enough nerding it up with angles for today, class.

In quality pianos the top of the bridge is often capped with hardwood to increase the holding power of the bridge pins. Almost every aspect of this piano is degraded or a bit how's-your-father. It's no matter (for now) provided that the client is content and the piano is serviceable within the context of general domesticity. 


Just as well the old dear can flash some curvy upper thigh as a distraction.


Ardent readers may recall Gypsy, the cat-in-a-box.


When I returned for the next tuning, Gypsy lived on in memory and mantel photo.


New cat. Meet Lana...


...now get tuning.


What self-respecting piano has no white keys?


My notion that it should be impossible to make bad music on a piano with only black notes intimidated me so much that I was incapable of making any musical sense whatsoever. The possibilities in my head overwhelmed. Meanwhile the odd (and to me often irritating) stylings of my partner in piano pampering came into their own this day. His haunting sounds almost made sense to me, and eclipsed my efforts.


We suffered a spate of warranty resolution call-outs to help poor folk whose white keytops had detached. Several service calls were performed in clients' homes, but this day we nabbed the 52 white keys and bundled them off to my back deck for a pleasant (sort of!) al fresco glueing session. I love the smell of contact adhesive in the morning.


Any white keytops not kept with their specific wooden keystick had to be carefully re-matched. Piano keyboards are cut and formed from a single large straight-grained board (or series of joined boards). One might assume that every white key is of identical width, but they do subtly vary. 

OK, team, don't start glueing until you've got the best shuffle of the fifty-two that you can. Each keytop and keystick was cleaned of the old glue (which must have been bloody cheap, and barely misted on) then crosshatch-scored with a blade tip to ensure that the parts would adhere stably this time, then glued and clamped.


Inadequate (or poor quality) glue and no preparation of the surfaces resulted in dismayed and complainy clients. Yet many of these folk can (and do) continue to play on horrendous sounding untuned pianos. Playing with detached white keytops was a deal-breaker (fair enough) yet a kid may have practised for years (perhaps had their entire musical experience) on an untuned piano. 

They're regularly witnessed, believe me, folk who'll go to the ends of the earth to follow a warranty grievance process about a keytop chip that you need a jeweller's eyepiece and the light of five suns to see (legitimate enough, perhaps) who never tune.

All pianos need to be regularly tuned, but new pianos even more so. All manufacturers recommend a minimum of four tunings in the first year to stabilise the new strings. Then (and only then) you might opt for twice a year if you're fussy, or once a year if you're not. Increasingly, piano buyers are not given this advice by salespeople (lest it make them walk away from the showroom bling) and their new pride and joy is not tuned at all. The instruments sound laughable - by which I mean bloody disgraceful. 


We test clamps that are designed for this purpose.


Done. ALDI's four-fold tables (and the two-fold little brothers) are invaluable both in client homes and elsewhere when things get temporarily workshoppy. 


Here's another whites-only snap, but with a different motivation.


An esteemed (yet new) piano received many a keyboard regulation (every day) during the Piano Olympics. New parts (the felts and cloths in particular) are initially very unstable and compress and change a great deal as the piano is played. Here we made an adjustment to the black key height. Black keys should be set 12 to 12.5mm above the line of the (levelled) white keys.


Paper and thin cardboard washers (punchings) are used to regulate key height and key depth (how far each key goes down when you play). The paper and cardboard punchings go underneath cloth punchings (which compress a great deal at first, but can also expand when humidity increases).


Punching protocol in fine piano work dictates that the fewest punchings should be used (under the cloth punching) to achieve the required key height or depth - i.e. a smaller number of thicker pieces, rather than a huge amount of thin ones. They should be placed in order from thickest to thinnest (thick being closest to the keybed). In clunkerland it may be acceptable to be a little less particular.


Out in domesticity keyboards are not being finely regulated every day. They may never receive any attention at all, but from time to time they should. It is usual for key depth to increase with the rigours of playing over time. Paper and cardboard punchings go under the cloth punching. Here we see two very thick cards above, either some big rush, or a temporary test.


I love finding old-school home-made punchings. This one's unusual. I don't even know what language this is. You're welcome to reduce my ignorance. No sensible piano technician would be inclined to make their own paper punchings now, unless they were desperate to effect a keyboard regulation on a desert island piano.


I was so charmed by this collection (which we replaced) that I reached for a macro lens. Newspapers and magazines were often used - but here on top we see a ledger, or someone's diary. Paper punchings obviously degrade over time, there is absolutely no sense in re-using this lot. Commercially available punchings will last longer and be more stable than any cast-off classified ads or crossword pages. The large diameter punchings go under the front of the keys. The small ones regulate key height at the balance rail.


Pub piano intervention prevention. Putting the 'no' in 'piano'.


That extra screw above the extra lock looks a bit of a worry. I'm not sure this fallboard is able to be opened at all. No means no.
  

Just in case you perceive me as too cat-centric, here's a client's doggy. I'm all for an indoor on-leash policy. The greatest annoyance with many (not all) dogs is piercing yap-yap-yapping ripping the guts out of my ears. I've taken (at times) to wearing earplugs as I arrive. I have ridiculously sensitive ears.


A dog bed under the piano. Different piano, different dog. Great wheels (we fitted them so that this kitchen piano could be moved depending on the style of pet or party).
  

Another piano client's 18-year-old one-eared cat. Was her ear barked clean off with a series of searing staccato yaps? No, it was skin cancer.


My sensitive ears are no match for the dinning of 120 people!
  

Anzac Bridge. In hot pursuit or coincidental encounter?


Still on the bridge, the Caped Regulators greet mates Extreme Piano Removals.

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Pianos: A good bollocking


Workshop memories. Piano work is diverse. It can seem foundry one minute, and Tonia Todman the next. I can't wait until Tonia eventually gives herself a good googling and learns how many times I've evoked her name in this manner. To be fair, we didn't forge that cast iron frame, but drilly-filly work was part of the assignment, along with customary sanding back and respraying. Removing and re-installing the frame (easily the heaviest part of any piano) requires specialist equipment: A felt-lined clamp and a winch of the type used to remove engines from cars. 


This business name impressed. Are you man enough to be an Embroidery Guy?


No? Bollocks.


Someone I know has a little more patience with this work than I feel I do. These elegant and functional listing felts will be replaced during any restringing.


Each stringing pillow (the green felt piece) is usually replaced, remade, or re-covered.


I see so many amazing houses, it's constantly enlightening. I had no idea that compact fluorescent globes were heritage-listed.


My local fruit shop. It would be churlish to deny a grocer his extraneous apostrophes but part of me was determined to blame the North Queenslanders. Bugger the fruit flies, let's check for apostrophes at all state borders.


To cleanse the palate, let's enjoy a couple of literate examples. I've slipped in another Woodford memory. What a wonderful initiative.


It would appear that the scouts of Orange may have gone several generations struggling along without an apostrophe. Eventually enough lamingtons had been sold and a masonry one was installed - to indicate many scouts (with much fanfare).


A restringing starts. A single wire loop is on, but not at tension. The tuning pins have not yet been driven in to their final height. The coils cannot be further tidied until those other things happen. Another tuning pin masquerades temporarily as a bearing point. The metal bearing piece (removed, not visible) will be whisked back to the workshop to be buffed. The existing stringing pillows (also removed) will be re-covered with new felt. Bamboozling? Possibly.


One of several bloody big drills used to remove tuning pins en masse. The bit is a tapered star tip that fits the pins in the manner of a stringing hammer (or lever).


A crude-but-nifty adaptation of this drill's case means the bit can stay in.


It's hard to know what sector of the piano-coveting community might be attracted to these cabinet stylings. I'm not.


It's reminiscent of the time Homer Simpson ingested Guatemalan Insanity Peppers.


I'm sure it's not just me...


...but I have no idea what (or whom) Royal George felt.


Regular gallery tunings keep me feeling artful. Wow, it's the Crazy Cat Lady when she was a beautiful young woman.


Kitten caboodle.


Everyone is taking phonetographs nowadays.


Strangely the air-conditioning seemed to roar as I tuned again, now in an empty room.


Let's hope the crowd roars where appropriate.


Ill Met by Phonelight. An inspection of a Bl├╝thner upright yielded another nerdy sighting.


Nah, not those key lever back ends, hideous rocker-capstan fittings that are extinct in all piano manufacture (deservedly so)...


...but rather, these hauntingly disembodied dampers. Unusual. We've removed the action, which in an upright usually means that the dampers are removed too (it's all one unit) leaving just the keys behind. You may recall another recent rarity where the action, dampers, keys, keyframe and cheek blocks came out as a unit. The last three in that list were the unorthodox elements (for an upright). Nerd it up, Cazzbo.


Lately I've been blogging in my back room office, a better choice for certain summer days, and an attempt to be more productive. My 'jungle' is looking pretty good. A huntsman spider scampered up the window and propped. I was quick to realise it was on the outside of the window, so everything was (relatively) OK.


Flashback to a decade ago when I first began the 'jungle' plantings. I bought a job-lot of ex-event hire plants on eBay for $90. The moment such plants look imperfect, overgrown or straggly, their corporate days are over.

Never one to pay for delivery (if I can help it) I drove home from the outer reaches of Sydney with my little vehicle crammed to the gunwales. Cazzbo, I'm pretty sure it's not legal to have gunwales fitted to your car in New South Wales.


Fortunately the nursery man knew just how to pack the car, I didn't have a clue. He deftly carried two pots in each hand (gripped by the rims) then piled them in on the oblique. 

I added to these ex-corporate plants with divided cuttings and bits and pieces from a dear friend with a wonderful garden, and I was away! Many new plants (and many losses - I am the Brown Thumb Gardener) later the 'jungle' is increasingly pleasurable.


Ridiculous, but I got there.


My little car has been pensioned off. May it rest in pieces.


It donated its organs so that other Nissan Pulsars could have a better quality of life.


Rusty Rorschach, my car's last anguished cry.




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